English and Modern Languages
Master of Arts (MA)
Primary Subject Area
Literature, English; Literature, General
Dickens, forgiveness, Great Expectations, orphan, redemption
English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles
Overbey, Rebekah, "Charles Dickens' Great Expectations: The Failed Redeemers and the Fate of the Orphan" (2013). Masters Theses. 271.
The figure of the orphan is scattered throughout the pages of Victorian novels, though few novelists created orphans that were quite as memorable as Charles Dickens. Lonely orphans and abused children appear in nearly all of Dickens' fictional works; in the novels in which the orphan is the main character, this innocent, helpless orphan is often adopted by a wealthy and benevolent benefactor, and the orphan is thus redeemed by a dramatic rescue. In Great Expectations, however, Dickens inverts this redemption by rescue that was so characteristic of his earlier novels. Instead of an innocent, helpless child, Great Expectations has Pip, a vain, selfish young man hoping for social elevation; instead of wealthy, benevolent benefactors, Great Expectations has frightening, scheming adults who would sooner use Pip than rescue him. While there is no redemption by rescue in the novel, there is hope for redemption by forgiveness: the orphan must forgive himself and the adults who wronged him. My argument is that this redemption by forgiveness is far more powerful than the redemption by rescue of Dickens' early novels, and this study examines the adults who failed to redeem Pip and seeks to understand why Dickens would have deviated so far from the pattern of his earlier orphan narratives.